A personal injury lawyer is a lawyer who provides legal representation to those who claim to have been injured, physically or psychologically, as a result of the negligence or wrongdoing of another person, company, government agency, or other entity. Personal injury lawyers tend to practice primarily the area of law known as tort law.
Even though personal injury lawyers are trained and licensed to practice virtually any field of law, they generally only handle cases that fall under tort law including work injuries, automobile and other accidents, defective products, medical mistakes, and slip and fallaccidents.
The expression “trial lawyers” can refer to personal injury lawyers, even though most cases handled by personal injury lawyers settle rather than going to trial and other types of lawyers, such as defendants’ lawyers and criminal prosecutors, also appear in trials.
Also referred to as a plaintiffs’ lawyer, a personal injury lawyer is responsible for interviewing prospective clients and evaluating their cases to determine the legal matter, identify the distinct issues rooted within the plaintiff’s larger problem, and research the issues to build a strong case. The ultimate professional responsibility of a personal injury lawyer is to help plaintiffs obtain compensation for their losses. Although personal injury cases often settle, a personal injury lawyer may have to take his client’s case to trial if a settlement cannot be reached.A personal injury lawyer has numerous responsibilities in serving his or her clients. These responsibilities encompass both professional and ethical rules and codes of conduct set forth by state bar associations where the lawyers are licensed. Once licensed to practice law by their state bar association, lawyers are legally permitted to file legal complaints, argue cases in state court, draft legal documents, and offer legal advice to victims of personal injury.
Personal injury lawyers must also adhere to strict standards of legal ethics when dealing with clients. While the guidelines vary according to state, the basic codes of conduct state that a lawyer must knowledgeably evaluate legal matters and exercise competence in any legal matter undertaken. Moreover, personal injury lawyers owe their clients a duty of loyalty and confidentiality and must work to protect their clients’ best interests.
In the United States, specifically in the State of Indiana, lawyers are given some guidance from the comments to that state’s Rules of Professional Conduct: “A lawyer endeavors to sustain the client’s morale and may put advice in as acceptable a form as honesty permits. However, a lawyer should not be deterred from giving candid advice by the prospect that the advice will be unpalatable to the client.”
Certification and education
In order to practice law in the United States, a personal injury lawyer must pass a written bar examination and, in some cases, a written ethics examination. Bar examinations vary on a state-to-state basis. However, most states require applicants to have completed a four-year college degree and a law degree from an accredited law school (California is one notable exception, but the non-accredited law school must meet certain requirements.)
In most states, a personal injury lawyer is required to take the Multistate Bar Examination (MBE), the Multistate Essay Examination (MEE), and the Multistate Professional Responsibility Examination (MPRE) and a state bar exam. Some states require another exam, the Multistate Performance Test (MPT), as well.
Once admitted to the state bar, personal injury lawyers must remain up-to-date on the latest legal and non-legal developments in their field of practice by completing a required number of continuing legal education (CLE) courses designed to help personal injury lawyers stay abreast of developments in their field. The number of CLE hours required varies by state.
Lawyers can concentrate their practices to certain areas of law, which is typically true of personal injury lawyers. By limiting the range of cases they handle, personal injury lawyers are able to acquire specialized knowledge and experience. The individual states regulate the lawyers in their respective states and promulgate rules of professional responsibility. These rules are subject to the United States Constitution.
Certification programs have set standards of competence, knowledge and experience that lawyers must meet in order to be recognized in their area of practice as a specialist. Lawyers who have completed a specialty certification program in personal injury law at an accredited certifying organization are recognized as personal injury specialists. Some states, such as New Jersey, offer a certification as a “Certified Trial Attorney”, which can be for both plaintiff and defense attorneys. Not all states recognize a specialty of personal injury lawyer . For instance, Ohio has no such official designation as a specialist in personal injury. Some states, such as Arizona, restrict the use of the words “specialist” or “specialize” in reference to a personal injury lawyer only to those lawyers who have obtained a certification from the State Bar Board of Legal Specialization.
Professional regulations and associations
Personal injury lawyers are regulated by codes of conduct established by state bar associations, which have the power to take disciplinary action against lawyers who violate professional or ethical regulations. The American Bar Association (ABA) Joint Committee on Lawyer Regulation offers assistance to state bars, helping them to draft, implement, and/or promote regulatory policies regarding personal injury lawyers.
Personal injury lawyers may belong to any number of professional associations, some of which are mandatory and others voluntary. For instance, personal injury lawyers are licensed by their state bar associations, of which they must be members. Among the more common professional associations that personal injury lawyers may voluntarily join are the following:
- American Bar Association – a professional association dedicated to improving the legal system and providing accreditation for law schools and continuing legal education programs (
- Association of Personal Injury Lawyers – an association based in Nottingham, England; founded in 1990 by personal injury lawyers on behalf of accident victims
- American Association for Justice – An association of trial lawyers that was founded in 1946 by a group of plaintiff’s attorneys committed to safeguarding victims’ rights. Prior to 2007, this organization was called the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, or ATLA.
The Mission of the American Association for Justice is to promote a fair and effective justice system—and to support the work of attorneys in their efforts to ensure that any person who is injured by the misconduct or negligence of others can obtain justice in America’s courtrooms, even when taking on the most powerful interests.
Types of Personal Injury Cases
Any case or claim that involves an injury to the body or mind falls under the umbrella of personal injury law. Some of the most common types of cases handled by a personal injury lawyer are:
- Animal Bite Injuries
- Auto Accidents
- Aviation Accidents
- Bicycle Accidents
- Boating Accidents
- Brain Injuries
- Burn Injuries
- Construction Accidents
- Defective Products
- Insurance/Bad Faith
- Medical Malpractice
- Motorcycle Accidents
- Nursing Home Abuse
- Pedestrian Accidents
- Slip and Fall Accidents
- Spinal Cord Injuries
- Wrongful Death